May 16, 2014

Iranian Kurdistan: Kurdish Identity and Culture Inferiorized

A recent statement released by the Iranian Consulate in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has sparked indignation among the Kurdish population.  The statement portrays Kurds as a minority spread over Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran, and undermines their cultural, linguistic and historical specificities - the core of their identity.

Below is an article published by Your Middle East:

On May 11 [2014], The Iranian Consulate released a statement about Iran's perspective regarding its relationship with the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. This statement was issued in the Kurdish city of Slemani (Sulaimania) and constructs an image of the Kurds that is permeated by misrecognition, distortion and humiliation, writes Barzoo Eliassi.

The statement starts with demonizing the first Kurdish republic in Eastern Kurdistan (Kurdistan of Iran) in 1946 that lasted for almost a year and labels it as "the few day lasting communist state of Mahabad" which has pushed some Kurdish political parties to be involved in "construction of nation, culture, language and history".

It goes on to tell us that "Kurdish dialect is not an autonomous language but belongs to the Iranian languages and is a mixture of Arabic, Turkish and Persian languages".  It is not clear which Iranian languages the Consulate intends but Persian is implicitly the normative point of comparison.

Furthermore, the statement reiterates the classical verses of the Islamic regime of Iran that western countries are the major source of division in the Islamic and Middle Eastern countries in search of natural resources. It also underlines that there are no divisions among the people of the region since they have been living together in a spirit of brotherhood for thousands of years.

Kurds in this statement are reduced to a "minority" living in Iraq, Syria and Turkey and their so-called great homeland: Iran. The statement also warns the Kurdistan Region to preserve the territorial unity of Iraq otherwise it will be facing a cold relationship with Iran. My focus in this article will be on misrecognition and non-recognition of the Kurds as an equally valid nation in the Middle East.

We need to set the stage for this Iranian discourse about misrecognition of the Kurds as a nation. First of all, the identity of the sovereign and the Iranian citizenship conceal the privileges of Persians. This does not mean that all Persians are complicit in this order intentionally but their identity provides them with a privilege since it is a marker of cultural norm in Iran.

The Iranian consulate in the Kurdistan Region asserts that the Kurdish language is not a proper language but a dialect of Iranian languages. I would like to draw an analogy between Kurdish language and Norwegian language in order to clarify my point. Imagine if the Swedish Embassy in Oslo says that Norwegian is not a language but a dialect of Swedish or Germanic language, while the universities, the public spheres, the TV, the radio and the newspapers are all expressed and communicated through Norwegian. Indeed there are more similarities between Swedish and Norwegian than Kurdish and Persian. A Norwegian understands a Swede and a Swede understands a Norwegian more and less.

Yet, this does not disqualify these two languages as autonomous languages.  One can wonder if it is the Iranian Consulate as a self-appointed judge that decides the universal objectivity of Kurdish language as a language or Kurds themselves? Does not the Consulate see the official status of Kurdish language in the Kurdistan Region?

This is not ignorance but sanctioned ignorance and deliberate inferiorization of Kurdish identity as such. The website of the Iranian Consulate uses Persian and Arabic languages as a means of communication given that Kurds in the Kurdistan Region are predominantly speaking Kurdish and the Kurdish language has an official status in that region endorsed by the Iraqi constitution. This is an explicit denial of Kurdish identity in the heart of Kurdistan. Is it not this misrecognition and distortion of a group identity that the philosopher Charles Taylor talks about?